Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Spread your wings and fly. Really!

My new Facebook friend Jarno is all up in the air over his latest project.

As of this past December, Jarno Smeets, a mechanical engineer from the Netherlands who enjoys outdoor activities, has created his own set of WINGS, and they have taken him over 100 yards. To be specific, he's created a "wing-suit," which he's tested and developed on over 500 jumps. He's in a three man "wing suit" team called FlyLikeABrick; flight formation group jumps are called "flocking". Each team member drops down into his or her "slot" one at a time, in a process that calls for "awareness," as pilots describe it: awareness of the time of the flight, surrounding conditions, one's own limits, the relative height, and other factors. He's been consulting wing-suit pilots at drop points since his inaugural 2003 flight.

Jarno writes: "there is a famous saying,
that 'with great power comes great responsibility' (I've heard that somewhere) and this perfectly describes the dive, or 'swoop' as it's called.

You can look up the group at their site and read all about it, or look for the "Top Gun" Birdman Factory team.

What Jarno's done here is create a "semi-human-powered flying device," based on his wing suit diving. He uses applications of what's called "haptic technology," which is sensitive to tactile (touch) feedback. Ever had a video game controller with a "rumble pack" ? Then you've experienced haptic tech, which feeds sensations back to its user. You may experience it in some graphic design programs, too. Their possible applications include "remote surgery," where information's fed back to the surgeon, reducing fatigue and making micro-surgery more precise. Haptic systems use actuators "to apply force for touch feedback," as Wiki states. Over the past four years, Mag-Lev, or Magnetic Levitation, has been used to produce this "realistic" feedback.

While no one welcomes an albatross around one's neck, Jarno studied the albatross in order to learn about graceful take-offs. Slingshot Fuel Kite makes up his outside material, mounted on aerodynamic support ribs. He flaps his wings utilizing a system built upon a relay between his HTC phone and a Wii controller. His self-designed human bird wings have been featured in several Dutch journals, and I recommend his blog to read his own words: how he went from work space and sketches to success in about half a year. He spent the summer working on the physics of his project.

Here's Jarno's successful run:

Are the human bird wings a hoax? Is the ten horsepower necessary to get them flapping---according to one hang glider pilot---possible to generate? I'm not the hang gliding expert, believe it or not, and if it IS, they fooled the Huffington Post, too. Me, I plan to ask Jarno more about it personally; feel free to weigh in. He's certainly shared his process and sketches, as well as his fourteen test videos.

Has humanity achieved a historic dream? I certainly hope so. Congratulations, Jarno Smeets!